Super Bowl LI event leaves lasting legacy

Houston • Feb. 6, 2017

By David Mincberg

So, what’s next?

That’s the question this morning as Houstonians wake up after Super Bowl LI.

The teams are leaving today, as are their fans. The NFL brass and its corporate partners will be returning to their home bases. Soon to be gone are the temporary stages, temporary street closures, temporary security and other short-term logistics. Gone too will be the Roman numerals.

But the heaping slice of Americana that is the Super Bowl wasn’t a one-and-done event.

Left in its wake is permanent infrastructure Houston has built for the long haul and an ongoing return on investment.

As a community, can we build on the success we just experienced and keep Houston in the game for future global showcases? Absolutely.

At Houston First Corporation our mission is threefold: 1) we want the world to take note of what Houston has to offer; (2) we want our citizens to believe in their community, and (3) we want to deliver first-class hospitality in every event we host.

Houston First just checked all three boxes.

Beyond the Super Bowl – and we all believe it won’t be 13 years before we host it again – Houston is ready for its next star turn. As the NCAA Final Four last year and now the NFL colossus have both demonstrated, Houston knows how to throw a party.

But it’s more than big games that make Houston a desirable destination. With new hotels in place – and more under construction – larger and more lucrative conventions are giving us a favorable appraisal. The wave of new downtown eateries – 18 alone in and around Discovery Green – and our emerging reputation as a “foodie” town enhance our appeal. Our emerging mass-transit options work well at crunch time.

Other improvements completed before our guests arrived are permanent and won’t be rolled up and placed in storage. We all benefit from the upgrades to our airports, roadways and sidewalks, new lighting and wayfinding signs, and installation of spectacular new public artworks.  

The brand-new Avenida Houston entertainment district also fared well during its debut at Super Bowl Live.  A salient point in our development of the Avenida is that it was designed, first and foremost, for the 5 million people who live in greater Houston and crave a central meeting place. Conventioneers and tourists are merely the gravy in this business model. Our approach is being studied by our meeting industry friends in several cities including Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and San Antonio.

Cultivating a homegrown audience for attractions that the rest of the world also appreciates is something that mitigates the ebb and flow found in purely tourism-based economies. Fostering wider constituency insulates our local economy during the inevitable downturns.

As it stands today, interest in Houston is white-hot.  Our final hotel bookings for 2016 are currently being audited, but we anticipate they will surpass room nights booked in 2015, which themselves were verified to be 29 percent greater than 2014.

Houston First just completed the largest client familiarization trip in our history with 19 major meeting and convention clients, spanning every conceivable industry sector, inspecting our facilities and the way Houston does business. Sixty-five percent of these prospects had never previously considered Houston for their meetings.

This unprecedented interest, combined with the rebounding price of oil, makes Houston First bullish on our meeting business.

Discovery Green has been a vibrant force since it opened across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center in 2008. With Avenida Houston now bridging the gap between the park and the convention center, downtown is a more attractive destination for visitors and locals. The Super Bowl proved that. Watch for nightly events in the Avenida after our official March 11 grand opening.

So, if you awoke this morning with the kind of hangover that is common in cities that have hosted a party on the global stage, get dressed and come back downtown. You will find plenty of reasons to cheer all over again.
David Mincberg is chairman of Houston First Corporation’s board of directors.

(This essay was published in the Houston Chronicle on February 6, 2017).